Memories: The Western Falls Incident... ((Story))




((A couple more scenes, later in Eldrath's life.))


“I don't know why we always have to go to your folks' house for the Fourth,” Bill said continuing the argument. It had started before they had left the house and been picked up about every twenty miles or so as they continued down the highway. It had been a poor week for Eldrath. The general tension that always hung in the air between her parents had thickened in the July heat to a miasma of open contempt and insults, punctuated by long moments of angry silence. Why don't they just get divorced, she wondered to herself. Posts whipped by as she watched out of the window, eager for any distraction. Beside her in the other side of the back seat Remy, her brother, played with his Game Boy. The beeps and clicks of the toy punctuated her father's cursing and her mother's sniping. Eldrath let her fore head lay on the window. It felt warm despite the air conditioning in the car.

They were goin to Grandma Huish's house, her mother's mother. Grandma Huish was a fat old toad of a woman, morbidly obese and almost an invalid. As it was she got around her house on a power assisted sled, her legs unable to carry her immense bulk for more distance than the sofa to the cart or vice versa. Grandma Huish at least though was always happy to see Eldrath. Her fat face always beamed with joy and she always had a hug and kiss for her. Despite being thirteen and wholly above such demonstrations of vulgar affection, Eldrath secretly loved those hugs. Grandma Huish always smelled of cinnamon cookies and hugging her felt like being enveloped in warm marshmallow.

Grandma Huish had never approved of Eldrath's father. Too much like her own husband, not imaginative enough nor entrepreneurial enough for her daughter. Grandma Huish always hoped her daughter would have made a better life for herself than she herself had, but Gloria had made similar mistakes. At least Bill had stayed with her, unlike Gloria's father. Not that Eldrath was convinced that was such a blessing. Eldrath's relationship with her father existed on two sides of a coin. The first, resentment, stemmed from how trapped Bill felt because of her and her sister. Though the tradition had fallen out of fashion well before Bill himself was born, Eldrath's father took responsibility seriously, even if he did resent it. He'd brought those kids into the world, and he would see them grown and healthy. The second, the love her felt for his children, always seemed tempered by the first. The affection was genuine, but Eldrath couldn't help but feel that often, when they'd be at one of her dance recitals or perhaps at a school function, that her father didn't want to be there. She'd catch his eye, and he'd be staring far away.

Gloria was similarly distant, but for different reasons all together. Eldrath's mother was a pill junkie. Oh not reds, or uppers, or ludes, nor anything of the like. Gloria's drug usage wasn't recreational, it was medical. She took a cocktail of anti-depressants daily to fight back the reality of her bleak marriage. Consequently, Gloria often seemed just a bit out of focus to Eldrath, like she was only 90% awake at any given moment. She couldn't be trusted to remember things, wasn't employed, and spent most of her time watching game shows and soaps sitting on the couch while her back brain circled on itself like a shark, tearing bits from her self esteem and gulping it down.

Grandma Huish knew all this well enough. She'd watched for the fourteen years her daughter had been wed to Bill. She'd seen the two of them deteriorate into calloused shadows of the bright young people they'd been and it had horrified her. So Grandma had become damage control. Eldrath didn't know it, but the old woman planned every visit to maximum effect, bolstering the kids with attention and love and trying to draw her parents into every encounter to get them out of their shells of self-absorption and self pity. Grandma Huish might be a weak woman when it came to sweets and exercise, but she was a wise one as well. Eldrath often wished she could just go live with her grandmother instead of returning home with her parents.

“And another thing,” Bill was going on, “why the hell do we need new towels again. You just replaced them six months ago! We're not made of money, Gloria!” He pounded his hands on the wheel for emphasis, his face an ugly blotchy red. Eldrath could see the vein in his temple pulsing under the skin like a fat worm. Whenever Bill worked himself into one of these tantrums, that happened. Some days, Eldrath pictured that vein bursting in a massive embolism that would kill Bill off. It made her feel sick to think it, but sometimes it didn't seem like that bad a thing. At least he wouldn't be miserable anymore. Her mother mumbled something through her cotton ball haze of pharmacological good cheer. Bill's tirade continued, not noticing the apology. Eldrath just wished he would stop, but she knew he wouldn't. Bill was a slow burn. He'd smolder for days, crackling and spitting. He'd never hit Gloria that Eldrath knew about at least. Not with his hands at least. She'd heard some of the fights though. Late at night, her head under her covers in her room, her hands pressed over her ears while the yelling went back and forth. The drugs made Gloria frigid, pushing Bill away farther and farther with each passing month. The disconnect sublimated into a hundred squabbles over nothings. And if he managed somehow to break through that thick blanket of numbness Gloria wove about herself, and spark her anger then she would say things to cut him and make him not want to try.

There had been an affair, Eldrath knew. She'd not known at the time of course. Her mother had had the good sense to be that discrete at least. The man had been a old boyfriend of her mother's from college. Eldrath had been five or six at the time, only met him once or twice when her mother would take them to McDonalds for a rendezvous. While she and her brother would play in the jungle gym, buried in a field of bright colored plastic balls and laughing, Gloria and her man would sneak off to kiss and hold hands. Then the man would buy them a molten apple pie that would blister your lips and they would go back home. Bill had found out about it eventually, but that old-school sense of duty hadn't allowed him to do what both he and Gloria had wanted and divorce her. They'd stayed together.

Bill laid on the horn, swearing at another driver as he pulled around to pass. Eldrath met the eyes of another girl in the car as it went by her parent's vehicle. The girl waved and Eldrath raised her hand and waved back with a smile. Her father's swearing continued, as it called into question the other girl's parents' intelligence and breeding, idiot bastards he called them. She just wished he would shut up. Wished he would be quiet and just drive. If he would just calm down everything would be all right. If he would just relax if he-

She felt it then. Felt the push. She hadn't really meant to do it consciously. Eldrath knew she wasn't like other young girls, she knew she was very different in fact. Mostly her difference manifested itself as an uncanny knack for getting out of trouble. Teachers believed her story over other peoples, even when there was evidence to the contrary. Sometimes her parents forgot she'd been grounded. Sometimes they never noticed she should be grounded at all. Eldrath could push people, you see. Just little nudges really. She couldn't make them do anything they really didn't want to do, but she could suggest. Give a little nudge. People were like marbles, really when she thought about it. Once you got them rolling along in a direction, they would tend that way on their own. She could even nudge objects, though they were much harder to move having only their will to set them in motion. They felt heavy and solid to her mind. Even a feather was like stone. She could lift it, yes, with a lot of effort. This time though something in her had pushed... hard. All that anger at her parents for making her and her brother's lives miserable because they couldn't stay in love, couldn't be a real family, it had boiled out through a crack in her mind and splashed over Bill in a torrent.

Their car swerved. Bill's head slumped forward on his chest, stunned. His eyes swam and he began to pull on the wheel, holding onto it like a life preserver. Then it all happened in a few infinitely long seconds. Eldrath saw her mother's drugged haze evaporate as adrenaline poured into her mother's body. Gloria screamed Bill's name, reaching out to shake his arm, trying to wake him. The back wheels of the car broke loose and the vehicle side slipped into the median with a horrendous crash. The windows and windshield exploded. A hail storm of crystal shards had erupted into being in the car. Eldrath heard herself scream, but it was like watching a movie, distant... remote. The Accord flipped, flying, rolling through the air and over the median. It dropped into the oncoming traffic on the other side of the highway. Eldrath could see the semi truck, its huge chrome grill looming up fast as the car slammed to the asphalt in front of it. She clutched Remy to her, eyes squeezing tight. Then the truck hit them. Something flashed white behind Eldrath's eyes. The crack in her mind burst open like a volcano and the air about her seemed solidify. Twisted metal and fire whipped all around the two children as the car disintegrated about them, but not a blade touched them. The rolled through the air, wreckage all around them until finally with a grating of metal on pavement the shattered husk of the Honda came to rest in the ditch beside the road. Then the brilliance behind her eyes faded in blackness, and Eldrath knew no more.

When she woke, Eldrath didn't know if she was dreaming or not. It took her eyes a few minutes to make sense of the room. When they finally did, she could tell it she lay in a hospital bed. An IV sat next to her bed with a big bag of saline suspended from it and a long tube running down to her arm. She pushed herself up, looking around trying to remember what had happened. Her memory felt fuzzy and she wondered where her parents were. She felt a wave of panic, though if you asked her she couldn't have said why. Only a sense of horror that rose the short hairs on the back of her neck. She was about to reach out for the call button on the small remote next to the bed when the door to the room opened.

Three people came in, two wearing medical staff uniforms, green smocks and caps with little green booties over their shoes, one a nurse and one obviously a doctor by the stethoscope hanging about his neck. The third man wore a trim cut suit and looked like Eldrath thought a fed might look, based on how the TV shows she'd seen portrayed them at least. He was a giant of a man, intimidating save for the eyes. His eyes looked tired.

The doctor crossed to her bedside. He looked to be about in his forties, the lines around his eyes had begun to show in earnest and his cheeks had that hollow look that becomes gaunt in some men as they age. He smiled at her, but the look didn't touch his eyes. Somehow Eldrath knew he didn't want to be there. A fleeting image run across her mind, like someone had turned on a projector inside her head. Eldrath blinked and felt the doctor's hands grab her shoulders as she swayed. Green grass floated across the movie screen in her head... and she looked down at... golf shoes? She blinked, shaking her head and trying to clear the image. It worked, the room came back into focus.

“There we are,” the doctor was saying. “Don't try to get up to fast, Ms. Joansen. You've been under for about a week.”

“Where am I?” Eldrath asked, her voice croaking strangely in her own ears. He throat felt incredibly parched. “Can I get some water?” The doctor nodded to the nurse and the young woman disappeared to return a moment later with a small Dixie cup. Eldrath drained it and thanked her.

“The where isn't quite so important yet, I think,” the doctor said watching Eldrath closely. “First let's see about HOW you are.” He proceed to quiz her then, holding up his fingers making her count them, snapping his digits behind her ears, and doing a whole battery of other things. Finally he nodded, apparently satisfied with her responses. “You seem little worse for what you've been through,” he said glancing at the man Eldrath had decided to think of as “the agent.” The doctor motioned to the agent to step forward. “Eldrath, this Colonel Waelin, he's going to answer any questions you have, alright? Good.” It wasn't really a question. The doctor picked up his clipboard, making some notes on it then he and the nurse stepped outside, the door closing with a swish behind them.

“Ms. Jonasen,” the colonel said, holding out his hand. Eldrath took it, shaking it without really thinking. Again, a projector sprang to life in her head. Images flooded into her mind, vying with each other for her attention. Eldrath closed her eyes, but the flood was there with her. Reflexively she broke contact. The tide slowed and ceased, leaving only a few flickering after images, like you get when you stare at a light bulb. “Ms. Jonasen?” he asked, his voice sounding genuinely concerned. “Do you need the doctor?”

“No.” Eldrath shook her head and then opened her eyes again and looked up at him. He had a block shaped head a strong pugnacious jaw. He was too brutish to be called handsome, his body was thick and broad like a Slavic weight lifter. He stood regarding her with a look of concern. Eldrath saw a flash then, of herself through his eyes surrounded by doctors while the treated her unconscious body. At least she thought it was her. It looked like her, but the girl on the table had hair that was stark white, not her own dark locks. She reached up and touched her head, then pulled a clump of hair into view. Eldrath couldn't help the gasp of shock. “What he hell?” She looked at the snow color lock in her hand confused.

“It happens,” he said, nodding. “Fairly often when a mutation comes into full manifestation there's some physical changes. You should actually be happy. Sometimes it's a lot worse. Careful now!” he said but she'd already struggled to her feet. “Let me help you.” He led her across the room to the small bath. Eldrath looked into the mirror, trying to take her reflection in... the change. Her eyes... they were the same color as her hair. The irises had been bleached out, like an over exposed photo, leaving just the tiny inky black pit of her pupil sitting in the center of the pale cloudy spirals that had once been wheat brown. Panic rolled itself into coils in her belly.

“Where's my parents?!” she said but didn't turn from the mirror, transfixed. Her voice sounded brittle in her ears. Her fingers clutched the counter, knuckles showing white. “I don't want to talk anymore, I want my Mom. I want my Dad!” She could feel herself starting to lose it. In a moment she would be sobbing. Colonel Waelin frowned, his face grim and sad.

“Ms. Joansen,” he said quietly, “Eldrath... they were killed in the crash.” The words hit Eldrath like a sledge hammer to the chest as the memories came flooding back. She screamed then, screamed and howled. Sobs wracked her and the guilt twisted her up. She felt arms encircle her and lift her like she weighed nothing. The huge man rocked her as he carried her to the bed. Finally he laid her down and sat her on her side. Eventually she cried herself to sleep and he kept a vigil. All of it could wait for now, the colonel thought. What was to become of the girl and her brother was a matter for another time. He pushed the snow colored hair out of her tear streaked face. Then he sat, and read.